Column: Evaluating Craig Robinson
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 15:01
A few years ago, if you would have told me the Oregon State men’s basketball team would be 0-5 in the Pac-12 on Jan. 23, 2013, I would have asked you a simple question:
“So, is Craig Robinson still the coach?”
If you had said yes, I would have asked who the leading candidates were to replace him at season’s end.
Yes, at one time I was as naïve as every Oregon State fan out there who thinks the Beavers’ fifth-year head coach’s job is in jeopardy.
Robinson is not going anywhere anytime soon, nor should he. His seat is not hot, and it’s time you all get that in your heads.
The last two-and-half years have not gone as well as they should have. The Beavers should have won more than five conference games in Robinson’s third season (2010-11). They should have been at least a NIT team last year, and they sure as heck shouldn’t be 10-8 through 18 games this season.
So be it.
I write this now because I don’t want to waste any time later this season discussing Robinson’s future if things continue to go south for the Beavers, who will try to pick up their first conference win tonight against the University of Washington.
Next year, if no one transfers or turns pro, the Beavers will have everyone back except senior forward Joe Burton. Their starting lineup very well could feature four seniors and a junior.
It wouldn’t make much sense to make such a veteran-heavy team start from scratch with a new coach, would it?
“It wouldn’t make sense, it wouldn’t make sense at all,” said junior guard Roberto Nelson. “If you look at the team next year — I don’t even want to talk about next year— but if you look at the team we have now with more experience, plus Angus [Brandt] and Daniel Gomis… c’mon man, that’s a top-25 team.”
The Beavers could finish last in the Pac-12 this season, and I’d still think it’d be a mistake not to bring Robinson back for a sixth season.
Now that we have that settled, let’s move on to the next question: Is Robinson capable of leading this program to its first NCAA Tournament since 1990?
He has the rest of this season, and all of next, to prove that he is.
Though you can’t blame the Beavers’ shortcomings this season on Robinson — they’ve been decimated by injuries (Brandt, Gomis) and had to deal with suspensions (Eric Moreland, Victor Robbins) — he hasn’t given anyone any reason to believe he’s better than a middle-to-lower-tier Division I coach.
And middle-of-the-road only cuts it for so long.
We know Robinson is a good, maybe great recruiter (considering he’s convincing kids to come to a school in Corvallis that doesn’t have a practice facility or a recent history of winning).
He’s also a great motivator — according to those he’s in charge of motivating — and someone the players can relate to, a father figure of sorts. That goes a long ways.
“Before the X’s and O’s, I think [Robinson] has done a great job of getting these guys to believe in him,” said associate head coach Doug Stewart, who coached under Robinson at Brown University for two years before coming to Corvallis with him.
Ah, the X’s and O’s. The jury is still out on whether or not Robinson is a good enough X’s and O’s guy, though Stewart said that hasn’t been an issue this season.
“Look at the Oregon game (a 79-66 loss), the strategy and scheming, we had a lead at halftime,” Stewart said. “A lot of the other games, like the Kansas game (a 84-78 loss), the strategy and schemes have been solid, we just have to be consistent.”
Robinson said you can’t judge his schemes just yet, because he’s had to vary them so much in his time here.
“I’d like to think that I’ve gotten better each year coaching different styles,” Robinson said. “Once we get a couple years of doing things one way, we’re going to be in good shape. This is really year two of playing the way we’re playing.”
So, what are Robinson’s shortcomings as a coach? The things he must fix if he wants to stick around for a seventh, eighth, ninth year?
We’ll start with the most glaring concern with Robinson-coached teams, including this year’s: defense.
“I have to become a better man-to-man coach,” Robinson deadpanned Tuesday.
The Beavers are last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 69.7 points per game, as they have been each of the past two seasons. They’re also last in field goal percentage defense (42.5 percent).
At times last year, the Beavers got away with outscoring teams — they averaged 77.1 points per conference game. This year, they’re averaging just 66 points per conference game, which has made their atrocious defense stick out like a sore thumb.
“All the jobs I’ve had have been inheriting bad programs and turning them around, and one way to do that is to play a lot of zones, play a lot of changing defenses to slow the game down,” Robinson said. “I’d like to get better at the whole concept of man-to-man defense.”
The other thing Robinson must fix: getting his team to play better at the start of the second half.
Whatever Robinson’s saying at halftime isn’t working, because the Beavers have been outscored 55-28 in the first five minutes of the second half of Pac-12 games this season.
“I’m trying to improve on getting my teams to come out of halftime playing better,” Robinson said. “I didn’t think I struggled with that [in the past], but this year it’s rearing its head.”
Oregon began the second half versus OSU on a 15-2 run, ASU began it on a 16-7 run, Arizona a 14-8 run, UCLA an 11-2 run and USC a 9-4 run.
Maybe opposing coaches are better at making halftime adjustments than Robinson is.
There are plenty of other things Robinson must fix, but those are the two things that have stuck out most to me.